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This review is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

A WAY WITH WORDS IVOR GURNEY, Seven Sappho Songs, words by William Bliss Carman (Thames Publishing) £6.95

You must be lonely amidst round trees
With their matron-figures and stubborn knees,
Casting hard glances of keen despite
On the lone girl that dances silvery white ...
                                    ('The Poplar')

Ivor Gurney had a way with words. Hardly surprising for a composer who was not merely an inspired musician but a published poet as well. Take any of Gurney's best known songs - 'Ha'nacker Mill', 'Brown is my Love', 'All Night under the Moon', 'You are my Sky', 'Down by the Salley Gardens' (not the folk tune, but his own), 'The Fiddler of Dooney', 'The Latmian Shepherd', 'The Cloths of Heaven', 'Desire in Spring', and you simply cannot avoid noticing his natural ease with word setting. He has a way of adapting his vocal line to the poem's emotional import and metric intricacies alike, be it by Francis Ledwidge, Belloc or Yeats - that is more than a match for Quilter, Butterworth, Vaughan Williams - any of the Georgian gang. It is just as marked when one considers his most daring slower settings - Edward Thomas's 'Snow', de la Mare's 'An Epitaph' (Here lies a most beautiful lady ...), John Freeman's 'Last Hours', or the arched epigram that best serves as Gurney's own memorial, his setting of his own two-stanza trenches poem 'Severn Meadows'.

The best currently available collection of Gurney's songs is 20 Favourite Songs, selected by the tenor Neil Jenkins from fifty originally published, initially on the initiative of ...


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